David R. Henderson  

The Wonder of Economic Freedom, 2

Government Fundamentalists... Public Financing of Political ...

Pinch me

A few months ago, I posted about the economic freedom that allowed my wife and me to help our daughter move from San Jose to San Francisco in less than a day.

I had another "pinch me; I can't believe it" moment last week. When I was surfing the web, I suddenly remembered a song that I had heard in June 1972 while driving from Ottawa to Toronto. It was a hit in Canada for a few weeks. I loved it. I never knew the name of the song and I was pretty sure that the artists were Canadian one-hit wonders. Every few years in the 1980s and 1990s, I thought about that song and wanted to buy it. But I couldn't think how. But what I did remember was this line:

You know she's gone and she won't be back, you must be a happy man.

So I googled it and found the name of the song, "Dunrobin's Gone," the name of the band, "Brave Belt," and even a link so that I could buy it. I've played it about ten times already. Moreover, one stranger was kind enough to write out the lyrics for free, and then another stranger corrected his lyrics, so that now I can sing along with it. I actually got the song for free (pardon me--this is an economics blog--"at a zero price") because the web site I found gave two hits free to every new user. But my consumer surplus that these strangers helped create is easily over $100.

My use of the word "wonder" is like Hayek's use of the word "marvel" in his classic article, "The Use of Knowledge in Society." Here's a key paragraph:


I have deliberately used the word "marvel" to shock the reader out of the complacency with which we often take the working of this mechanism for granted. I am convinced that if it were the result of deliberate human design, and if the people guided by the price changes understood that their decisions have significance far beyond their immediate aim, this mechanism would have been acclaimed as one of the greatest triumphs of the human mind. Its misfortune is the double one that it is not the product of human design and that the people guided by it usually do not know why they are made to do what they do. But those who clamor for "conscious direction"--and who cannot believe that anything which has evolved without design (and even without our understanding it) should solve problems which we should not be able to solve consciously--should remember this: The problem is precisely how to extend the span of out utilization of resources beyond the span of the control of any one mind; and therefore, how to dispense with the need of conscious control, and how to provide inducements which will make the individuals do the desirable things without anyone having to tell them what to do.

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CATEGORIES: Political Economy

COMMENTS (14 to date)
Vito DiPaola writes:

Oh, this is great! I have bought at least 10 songs from iTunes in the past five months doing exactly this - hearing a fragment of a lyric on a podcast or television program, Googling the lyric, and then buying the song.

In addition, I have bought additional songs from the same artists, whom I never would have known without the ability to track down the initial lyric using Google. Truly a marvel.

While not exactly the same thing, I have downloaded a lot of Mike Munger Econtalk podcasts from iTunes, too, after hearing my first Munger interview.

RL writes:

It gets even better, David.

iPhone apps include a FREE downloadable app called Shazam. When you're listening to music on the radio or other source and you want information, tap the app. It listens to the song, goes into a huge database, finds the song, gives you the name/band/other info, gives you various sources that you can buy it from, and asks if you want to be connected to any of them. From that point you can download the music if you wish.

happyjuggler0 writes:

I actually got the song for free (pardon me--this is an economics blog--"at a zero price") because the web site I found gave two hits free to every new user

I habitually use the term "free of charge". It sidesteps the obvious "there is no such thing as a free ____" criticisms.

Joe Calhoun writes:


I have no doubt that you found the song and obtained it for free, but I think we need to demand some empirical evidence for your claim that your consumer surplus is easily over $100.

Please post a video of you singing along to this little ditty (good god, man not in the shower...)and I'm sure we'll be able to objectively determine its true worth.

Gary writes:

David, are you sure Soundike.com is legal? Just because you paid for the music doesn't mean the Russian owner of the site did. A quick google search reveals that several people are suspicious of the site, and it reminds me of software sites I've seen that promise to sell "genuine" copies of Microsoft Office for a fifth of the legitimate retail price. Of course, they're just selling torrented material.

Gary writes:

David, you might even want to cancel your credit card and put a fraud alert on your credit bureau files. Maybe their only racket is selling pirated music, but maybe not...

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks for the heads up, Gary.

david writes:

I second Gary's advice. I do not have any particular knowledge of soundike.com, but most such sites operate on a business model that would be illegal in the US (to say the least).

Soundike.com in particular appears even more suspicious that normal, given its shady domain name history and legal terms. I don't know whether they really are legal, even under Russian law, but if we are to trust the lemon market model then your information has probably already been sold.

It is likely that you 'paid' in terms of email address and credit card information, and what you paid for is not really a music file (which are generally easy to get free and anonymously, no matter how obscure), but rather the convenience of a direct download.

david writes:

And, um: should you ever be tempted to shop for music again, unless you're buying from a high-profile retailer like iTunes or Amazon, don't give more personal information than necessary, buy using a prepaid card, register using a made-for-the-purpose email account which you'll never use again, and never ever buy from stores that require additional software to be installed to play the music.

Also, keep in mind that with shady music retailers, the copyright holder isn't likely to see a kopek of what you paid either, so you may as well save your money and opt for either a brand-name or piracy.

None of these is a celebration of private property rights, sadly - rather the opposite.

david writes:

Oh, and:

Don't use the same usernames, email addresses, or passwords on these sites as any used elsewhere. A relatively recent trick has been to collect such info, then check Paypal/Facebook/Instant Messaging/etc. to see if the victim created any accounts elsewhere with identical usernames/passwords.

Paypal in particular is a tasty target, since it just uses an email address and allows easy access to cash. Money vanishes and the victim is left wondering what happened when he didn't even enter any credit card info. Accounts elsewhere may just be used to send spam. If the address used is of any popular webmail provider (hotmail/gmail/yahoo/etc.), then you can expect your email to be combed too.

Snark writes:

So what started out as a post extolling the virtues of economic freedom has quickly deteriorated into a discussion about the possibility of identity theft. If it turns out that David has truly been victimized and seeks remedy through legal recourse, wouldn't this represent a philosophical contradiction?

Richard A. writes:

I suspect that there are massive copyright violations on YouTube.


david writes:

Not really, I think? It may not be a brilliant illustration of the benefits of economic freedom, but creative criminality alone doesn't count against freedom.

Bill writes:

The song's rhythm and sound reminds me a bit of "Wasted on the Way" by Crosby, Stills, & Nash.

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